First Sunday in Lent, Year B

Sunday, February 18, 2018
Fr. Jon
Homily transcription: 

A few weeks ago I went to Phoenix with a good friend of mine for five days.  On the second day, we drove south out of the city toward Tuscon, into the desert.  There is a stark beauty to the desert.  It is both attractive and terrifying at the same time.  Part of me thought it would be great to be in the desert, just God and me, at night with the star shining brightly.  The better part of me knows that this would get old fast, and I would soon want to run back to the city, away from rattlesnakes and to be with people.  


The desert experience is a common, and it seems even essential, part of the development of the great figures of the Bible.  Think of Abraham, and Moses, and John the Baptist, and St. Paul.  All of them spent time in the desert being remade into something new before they began their mission.  In today's Gospel, even Jesus spends forty days in the desert, which is of course the pattern of our Lenten season.


Mark's Gospel says that the Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the desert, and only after that was he ready to begin his mission.  In our long, 2000 year old, tradition, some have chosen the desert.  Some of our best saints literally went into the desert.  Our Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving are meant to led us into a desert like experience.


But more often, we do not choose the desert.  It comes to us.  This can be when a relationship with someone who means so much to us ends through a break up, divorce, or death.  Or when we are walking with someone who is struggling with addiction or depression, and we feel totally helpless.  Or when we experience great personal failure or the pain of loneliness.


If we are in a desert time of our life, perhaps like Jesus and other great figures in Scripture, we are exactly where God wants us to be.  Not to punish us, but to purify us, to teach us a deep truth about life, and prepare us for something greater.


The author Fr. Richard Rohr in an article says this:  "Without the desert, religion is largely the maintenance of self-image, and psychology is its newest toy."  Now Fr. Rohr is not against counselling.  But he is saying that without authentic desert spirituality, religion is reduced to feeling good instead of doing good, faith is reduced to making us comfortable instead of making us unselfish, and God is reduced to meeting my needs instead of calling us to grow.


What happens in the desert that makes it so important in our spiritual development?  In the desert, we confront our own sin, our dark side we prefer to numb or run away from.  In the desert, we have a deep realization that we are not in control, and are utterly dependent on God. In the desert, we re-order our priorities in life, and get back to the basics.


The desert is a place of deprivation and transformation, and it is both attractive and terrifying at the same time.  It is in the desert, and only in the desert, that we can die to an old way of life so that we can live more abundantly in Christ.  The Lord drives us into the desert not to punish us but to purify us.


In our own desert experiences, let us recall three things.  Remember when God's people wandered in the desert for forty years, that God daily gave them manna from heaven to sustain them.  Remember that this continues today in our Eucharist, when Jesus gives us himself as manna, as bread for our journey.  And remember that no one ever became a saint without spending time in the desert.